Bad Medicine is What You Need

Posted by 27 November, 2008


No, I’m not referring to the Bon Jovi song from the 80’s (actually titled “Bad Medicine”). I’m referring to the concept that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I think it’s well known that some germs are good and low levels of stress are good, but too much of a good or a bad thing can be bad.

That’s certainly the case, and has now been proven by biologists as detailed in an issue of New Scientist. This concept known as hormesis, means that high doses of a substance can be toxic, but at low doses, it could actually be beneficial. To prove a point the author states that many compounds that improve health at low doses, including vitamin A, vitamin B6, selenium, iron, and zinc, are in fact toxic at high doses.

But antioxidants are a good thing, right?

Mark Mattson and Edward Calabrese explain that antioxidants are part of a wider class of plant chemicals, called phytochemicals, that are toxic at high doses but beneficial at lower doses. The amounts we normally eat are insufficient to reach toxic concentrations in the human body, but are enough to activate our molecular stress responses. In other words they are hormetic stresses.

The article also mentions recent research has also shown that hormesis is responsible for at least some of the health benefits of exercise and calorie reduction. Reducing calorie intake and increasing energy expenditure lowers your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and we now know this is because diet and exercise induce a state called “mild metabolic stress”, where levels of glucose and the molecular energy currency, ATP, are depleted.

So, what does this all mean to you? For one, it’s scientific proof that proper diet and exercise are a good thing. Throughout our history, we have always modeled things after nature. Whether it was the Wright brothers modeling their airplane after a bird, or more recently, scientists trying to mimic the composition of a spider web, which is extremely strong given its low weight. I think that hormesis (I hadn’t heard of this word prior to reading the article in New Scientist) is something we can look at and model after in our everyday lives. Whether we are exercising, trying to save money for retirement, or trying to eat healthy, we should model after nature and do things in moderation. If things are difficult at first, you should remember that it’s natural and things will get easier because we all need mild stressors to make us stronger and more able to handle more difficult challenges in the future.

Photo by Notions Capital


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November 28, 2008

I guess we always knew that it was possible to “have too much of a good thing” and now we are learning that it might be possible to have too little of a bad thing.

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